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The House on Cedar Street
“Ellie, is that you?” my mother shouted as I shut the front door. “Yeah, I’m home,” I shouted back. I threw my backpack in its usual spot on the floor. My mother hated it when I did that and she always told me to put it in my room. But did I listen? No. I figured that as an American I had my rights. I would take it up stairs when I pleased.
I followed the smell of what seemed to be fresh baked chocolate chip cookies into the kitchen. This was what I had been anticipating for. After school, every day, I would come home to a plate of cookies that sat at my seat at the dinner table. Today it was chocolate chip, my favorite. But something was wrong. My seat was empty. Normally, I had a plate of two cookies that were just waiting for me to devour. Where were they? I turned to look at my mother. “Where are my chocolate chip cookies?” I asked. My mother looked up at me and then turned her back to look at the counter. When she turned around, she had a basket in her hands. “Right here,” she said. “Right here in this basket are your cookies.” Now I was confused. Why were my cookies in a basket?
“But why”-, she cut me off. “I want you to go share these cookies with Mr. Jefferson at his house. Talk to him, Ellie. He deserves some company and you’re just the person to give it to him,” my mother said. What?! Now I was furious. I had to share my chocolate chip cookies with Mr. Jefferson!
“But-“she cut me off again. “I don’t want to hear it Ellie. Take the basket and go.” She handed me the basket and I left.
I walked across the street and past two houses when I finally reached Mr. Jefferson’s house. It was small, with most of the paint chipped off and some of the shingles on the roof were missing. Then there was the porch. It looked like it had been attacked by termites. But the lawn was worse. The grass was all dead and the trees were bare, just the trunk and some branches. And his garden, well it was dead. I must have had this horrified look on my face because Mr. Jefferson looked concerned when he asked, “Hi Ellie. How are you?” I looked up at his face and managed to smile. “I’m fine,” I said. I held up the basket and pointed to it. “I brought you some cookies.” He looked at me and then over to the basket and motioned me over to him. “Well, we can’t enjoy those cookies unless you come over here and have a seat in this fine rocking chair,” he said as his hand was rocking the chair. I then walked across the dead lawn, up the stairs to the porch, and sat in the rocking chair.
“Mmmm, these cookies sure do smell good,” Mr. Jefferson said as he took the basket from my hands. Then he unwrapped the towel and had a look of excitement in his eyes. “And they look just as good as they smell!” Mr. Jefferson took a cookie out of the basket and took a big bite out of it. “Mmmmm,” he said. It looked like he hadn’t enjoyed a homemade chocolate chip cookie in a long time. I reached over and took a cookie for myself and ate a bite. Boy was Mr. Jefferson right! These cookies were amazing! Once I finished my cookie I looked over at Mr. Jefferson who was stuffing cookies in his mouth, which was too full to fit anymore into it. Wow, I thought, someone never learned his manners. I took another cookie and ate it. The sweet taste of warm melted chocolate was sensational. Again I reached for another cookie, but I found the basket to be empty. What!? How could the basket be empty already? I had only been there for about six or seven minutes. I looked up at Mr. Jefferson to see him licking his hands free of chocolate. I was absolutely shocked. There had to be about fifteen to twenty cookies in that basket and I only ate two. Wow that man can eat!
“Those cookies were great,” said Mr. Jefferson. “I really enjoyed them.” “Yeah, I could tell,” I said.
Mr. Jefferson turned to look at me. “You know, Ellie, I haven’t had homemade chocolate chip cookies since Eleanor was alive.” I wanted to ask who Eleanor was but I figured she had passed on and I didn’t want to upset Mr. Jefferson. Pretty soon things got quiet and there was an awkward silence and I figured I had two options. One, I could get up, say goodbye, and leave. Or, two, I could start a conversation and do what my mother told me to. Hmmm, I thought, I’d pick choice number one.
“So, Ellie, your nine years old,” Mr. Jefferson said. “That means you’re in third grade. What are you learning this year? I forgot. You see it’s been a long time since I was in third grade.” My chance to leave was now gone. Mr. Jefferson had to talk. “This year we’re learning about the planets, multiplication, and cursive writing,” I replied.
“Oh, well isn’t that just dandy,” he said. “What is your favorite subject?” Ok, I thought, last question and I’m leaving. “My favorite subject is reading,” I said, ready to get up and leave. “Really! I love to read too,” Mr. Jefferson said. “My favorite book as a kid was always Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.” I found it hard to believe that Mr. Jefferson was once a kid.
“I’ve never read that book,” I said. “I guess I’ll have to check it out of the library.” “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary,” he said. “You can come to my house after school and I’ll read it aloud to you.” Great, I thought just what I need, to come over after school and share more of my cookies with him. Mr. Jefferson looked at my face and could see that I didn’t want him to read aloud to me. “Look, Ellie, I understand if you don’t want to waste any more of your time with me,” he said. “A kid like you should be playin’ with your friends instead of visiting an old guy like me.” Oh, Mr. Jefferson why did you have to say that, I thought. Now, I felt bad for him. “No, Mr. Jefferson, I would love it if you read to me,” I said. “I’ll come over tomorrow with cookies for us to eat.” I saw the joy in his eyes when he smiled and it made me feel good. Mr. Jefferson did deserve some company.
“Mom, hurry up and give me the cookies,” I shouted at my mother. “Mr. Jefferson is waiting.” She handed me the basket of cookies and I left to go to Mr. Jefferson’s house. Once I got there I took a seat in the old rocking chair. I then sat the basket on the table between the two chairs. “Today, Mom made snicker doodle cookies,” I said. “Sounds great,” said Mr. Jefferson. “Well, I better start reading.”
“Aunt Polly marched around the house calling her nephews name in an agitated manner……,” read Mr. Jefferson. While Mr. Jefferson read I listened intently and ate cookies. This book was actually pretty good, I thought. And to my disbelief I was enjoying myself. Finally Mr. Jefferson finished chapter one and closed the book. Then he turned to me. “Well, how did you like the first chapter?” he asked. “It was really good,” I said. “But boy that fence must have been pretty ugly.” Mr. Jefferson looked at me with a puzzled face and stood up.
“Come here, Ellie,” he said as he motioned me to follow him. He walked over to the neighbor’s yard and I followed. “Look at this flower right here,” he said. “Do you think it is beautiful?” I looked up at his face to see if he was serious or not and he was. “I think this flower is beautiful,” I said. “Ok,” he said. “Tell me what else you think is beautiful.”
“I think rainbows, butterflies, and sunsets are beautiful,” I said. “Oh, and my house too.” I thought this whole thing was stupid. Why was I listing things that I thought were beautiful? “Well, just like you think those things are beautiful, the maker of that fence probably thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world,” Mr. Jefferson said. Where was he going with this, I thought.
“And you know what else, Ellie,” he said. “My house may look like a bear came up and attacked it, but to me it is the most beautiful house on the street.” I couldn’t see how he thought his house was beautiful. There were several nicer houses on Cedar Street. “Ellie, my house may not be that nice looking,” he said. “But you don’t need money to make something beautiful.”
“My house is beautiful because I have so many beautiful memories of this place,” Mr. Jefferson said. “This is mine and Eleanor’s first home, this is where I taught my daughter to throw a softball, this is where Eleanor tried to keep those darn flowers alive, and this is where I spent the last few days with Eleanor and Kirsten.” What was he saying? That his house was beautiful because this was where he spent time with his family? I was totally confused but I didn’t want Mr. Jefferson to think I wasn’t listening so I said, “Your house is the most beautiful house on Cedar Street”
Pretty soon, day after day, I would visit Mr. Jefferson’s with a basket of cookies in my hands. He would read me a chapter of Tom Sawyer and we would talk. And every day he would tell me just how beautiful his house was and I, who didn’t understand his logic, would just nod my head and act like I agreed with him.
I felt my heart start to beat faster as I walked on the grass to visit Mr. Jefferson. In my hands were a basket of cookies, an old copy of Tom Sawyer, and a small blanket to sit on. I walked over to a willow tree and set the blanket, book, and basket down next to three plaques in the ground. I then stood over the third plaque. “Ten years Mr. Jefferson,” I said. “Can you believe it? Ten years ago today this plaque was made for you.” I started to feel the tears roll down my cheeks. Don’t cry, Ellie, I thought, don’t cry. I stood over the plaque and memories flooded my mind. I started to cry. Yeah, mom was right; crying sometimes is the way to go, even if you don’t want to. When I finally stopped crying I read Tom Sawyer to Mr. Jefferson, Eleanor, and Kirsten. Then it was time for me to go. I couldn’t spend the rest of my day crying. I picked up my things and looked over the plaque that read “In Loving Memory of James Jefferson.” I smiled and said, “Mr. Jefferson, your house is still the most beautiful house on Cedar Street.”